I recently watched a TEDx talk. The speaker shared that she had let her own personal food choices and beliefs impact her interaction with her patients in a rather unempathetic way. When she became aware of this, she pivoted to become more effective and compassionate.
It made me think of a time I was volunteering at an event to pack food boxes for people in need in another country. One woman, a mom, looked at the unassuming nutrient-rich dry goods along with the vitamin/mineral packets we were packing, and wondered aloud “are kids really going to eat this?” She was thinking of her own children and the plethora of food choice we have here in our country. The dire situation for the recipients of this life saving nutrition simply wasn’t her reality. This incredibly important volunteer task at hand opened her eyes to what others were faced with: starvation. Perception and reality…and sometimes, simply not knowing something until you do know it.
Regardless of our professional training, our personal experience comes into play, impacting our thinking and absorption of information. When you are exposed to more global points of view, literally and/or figuratively, it can help you see the bigger picture and the possibilities. One might say this is a “practice what we preach” moment, so…let me share mine.
I grew up in a family who always had gardens. My entire family did this – whether they were farmers or other professions, in this country or our family’s country of origin, on both sides. We value all five food groups and the choices within them. My mom (and her mom) canned and froze fruits and veggies, and also served them fresh (raw or cooked, washed first, of course). Bundles of poultry and meat were broken down into family size portions to freeze and use efficiently in weeks to come.
My dad often shared stories about how his grandpa, my great grandfather, would bring home different foods from different parts of the city (Chicago), representing so many wonderful cultures, exposing the family to new tastes, new dishes, and new ideas.
We grew up eating fresh foods, frozen foods, and canned foods. Still do.
We enjoyed and appreciated store brands before it was cool. Still do.
We grew up buying the value packs of meat, fish, and poultry. Still do.
We grew up welcoming new foods and flavors from around the world to our plates, exposing us in a relevant way to other ways of living. Still do.
We grew up valuing the importance of eating balanced meals, including treats in the context of a full day’s intake, exercising, and going to bed with enough time for adequate sleep. Still do.
My professional training continued my journey. It taught me how to listen for the important details – and how to understand people’s circumstances. As a nutrition professional, I celebrate every single type of food choice a person might make and help them make sense of it in the context of their health goals and personal needs.
Sometimes, it’s pretty basic. Food to support existence.
Sometimes, it’s about more than nutrition: it’s a memory, a time, a place, a history.
Sometimes, food provides an amazing amount of nutrition for the calories it has. We call this nutrient-dense, or nutrient-rich. In other words, for the money spent and calories consumed, these options deliver more of what we need in each delightful bite.
I teach people how to navigate food labels that highlight nutrients of public health concern. I am confident in knowing what other nutrients are also in that food, even if they aren’t on the label. I share this with you so you know which foods are the most nutrient-rich, too.
There is no need to debate about superiority of one food over another. It’s never that simple, and it’s not just about one food or one way of eating.
Is there a “best” protein? Yes – all of them. Here are some brief examples of what this means: Fish has omega-3s. Meat is awesome for bioavailable iron. Legumes (beans/pulses) are super for fiber. Dairy has calcium. All of these are protein powerhouses with a complex, important matrix of nutrients. Missing one of these options would mean we’d have to make up what they give us somewhere else. Some are easier to cook than others, and some are “shelf stable” depending on the form. And bonus? There is even more nutrition in each of these beyond the one detail I shared here to make the point, and the history and origin of each of these is relevant to us from a culture and heritage point of view.
Make food choices you know will help you reach your goals. If you have questions, search out answers from experts: If someone judges your food choices and is prescriptive in what “everyone” should do, that’s about them – not you. Ignore their prescriptive “advice”. Be confident in choosing foods that are relevant to you and your family. Be confident, too, in making a new choice to try something else. It’s not about wrong or right. It’s about informed and balanced.
Bottom line? There are many ways to eat well and support your health. A balance of food groups and the nutrients within them will help you get there. If you don’t like your current health status, get informed so you can make new choices. Food is personal. So is our health. You got this.